Friday, March 26, 2010

Energy scenario in India

I will try to capture the magnitude of problem as far as energy supply and demand needs are concerned in India. While there may be serious generation deficiencies, there is no substitute for conserving the energy, whether or not there is a generation surplus.

Some people are born (energy) conservationists, some achieve conservation, and some have it thrust upon them! Indians today mostly belong to the third category. I will explain why. In my article on carbon paranoia, I made a point that coming from a country like India, where there is a serious lack of energy supply, notions of earth hour and conservation (from an ecological point of view) are very difficult to sell. Many households are forced to face blackouts or load shedding for almost 1-2 hours in best case each day; it can reach a staggering 8-10 hours a day in peak summer time if you are not staying in category A city.

So is the situation all hopeless? Let us look at some statstics, may be not exactly encouraging but something we have to live with. Please focus on the trend rather than the specific numbers which may be debatable.

  • India is world’s 6th largest energy consumer, accounting for 3.5% of global energy consumption. US, on the other hand, consumes 25% of the world’s energy with a share of global GDP at 22%
  • India hopes for an annual 7% economic growth in GDP on moderate terms. Some optimists have talked of double digit growth. Energy requirements and economic growth go hand-in-hand and needless to say that such a high targeted growth would require some serious work on the energy supply side
  • India’s fossil reserves are limited. Known reserves of oil may last for only 18 years while gas reserves may last for 26 years only. On the contrary, India’s coal reserves are huge and may last another 200 years but ash content in coal will raise international eye-brows in the wake of GHG and its impact on global warming.
  • 70% of total petroleum product demand is met by imports, imposing a heavy burden on foreign exchange (Rs 80,000 crore or 20 billion USD per year)
  • Annually, there is a huge energy supply-demand deficit of 7-11%. By 2012, there is a need for an additional 100,000 MW power. Estimates indicate that this may require Rs 8000 billion investment.
  • In last few decades, demand for energy in India has gone up by around 4% annually. Per capita consumption in India is low, but is expected to reach 1000 KWh by 2012, that will further widen the supply demand deficit.
  • Electricity theft, though, accounts for 1.5% of the GDP. Transmission and distribution losses are at a staggering 30-45%

All these numbers are mind boggling. They may be depressing, but are educative alright in nature. They impinge upon us the grave reality of where we are today and where we are headed. It makes us pause and think what we should do.

I come back to my point on conservation being thrust upon many. But honestly, staring at above statistics, we need more awareness than we have shown. We may belong to the 3rd category as I mentioned at the start, but we need to also work on achieving conservation through active community engagement. Let us look at some of the interesting points below (again may be debatable, but please look at the message)

  • The peak (deficit of upto 11%) and average power demand (deficit of 7%) can be both reduced through conservation.
  • One unit saved avoids 2.5 to 3 times of fresh capacity addition.
  • A typical industrial site, by saving up to 20% of its energy consumption, can save up to 50% cost in their electricity bills.

There are power generation issues, more serious transmission and distribution issues, theft issues and monopolies. These issues were sought to be addressed holistically through a new legislation, Energy Conservation Act 2001. While it has changed the way power management is done today, a lot still needs to be done. We all need to conserve energy. There are limited natural resources, limited power generation (renewable energy or otherwise), there is a higher demand and there is an ever increasing base of population that is staking access to energy. Then there is growth aspiration. The equation may never balance itself, but can definitely be left much unbalanced through active energy conservation.

GHG, climate change, global warming may never sell to Indian customers (as yet – who knows about 2020 and later!) but what does is how much of energy conservation can save their electricity cost. That way they can make their businesses more viable or even more profitable. Either way, conservation (forced or voluntary) leads to a win-win situation for both the Indian consumer and the planet Earth at large. We can not escape the scenario; so we have to embrace it. We can help it improve though in many ways, conservation surely being one of them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Carbon Paranoia!

I come from a country (India) where the notions of energy and water conservation are not abstract but very much problems we face here and now. The scarcity of resources is evident, was always so. I was brought up in a family that was conscious of these topics much before the world was caught by the current marketing blitz, and we were quietly introduced to the notions of conservation many decades ago. After all, there was only little water that we would be supplied each day. Earth hour is something each one of my countrymen faces each day twice over in the least, when either the scheduled or otherwise load shedding takes place.

My working with a start-up focusing on energy markets couple of years ago was accidental. It was accidental because more that the related climate change concerns, the business case looked great for energy conservation, especially for industries and commerical buildings. It was difficult to engage the customers with CO2e they were contributing to the earth's atmosphere. But it was easy to engage with them by presenting a case where they could save money by reducing the cost of energy. One can only reduce this cost through conservation and hence conservation was a good concept for Indian industry. All the same, consequently my interest in climate change topics was also accidental. I had occsasionally been watching a few TV documentaries or films (Inconvenient truth for example) on the topic. But the purposeful excursions into field of climate change only began around UN COP15 at Copenhagen. The diversity of opinions and degree of earnestness brought to the fore to make the explorations exciting. Around the same time the climategate and glaciergate happened and I began reading the IPCC v4 report.

I then set out to find answers for the following in that order.

  1. Why is there a debate on benefits on conservation of natural resources?
  2. Or was the debate about feasibility of anthropogenic (i.e. man-made) global warming?
  3. Is the science of climate change so complicated that IPCC got it wrong?
  4. With or without IPCC errors, what does the whole thing mean to the world at large?
  5. Does the physics of climate change help understand?
As it turned out, I realised that there was hardly any debate on coservation of natural resources. That is given. Yes there was an issue (and still is) about whether anthropogenic global warming is real. Climategate and glaciergate brought out the focus on CO2 emissions as the sole reason why the planet was warming and doomsday hypotheses were presented. As to the science of climate change, there does not seem much of a problem with science per se, as scientists are doing a good job but largely their work does not reach the common man in the language the world understands. It is also known that the climate change science is not straightforward. But if left to the scientists, am sure a constructive univerally acceptable theory can be brought out. Unfortunately, IPCC was assumed to be the medium that brings out that theory to the common man. And that probably was the reason why IPCC got it a bit mixed up. The problem, then, is not plain science, but what may be called the herd science. Herd science is when (convenient) facts from science are used by many related disciplines of economics, mathematics, politics and even religion are used to back up a certain (convenient) truth. Today, much of carbon related paranoia can be explained by herd science.
I thought I was less of a common man and more scientifically inclined, so I thought of following the trail of physics. Physics remains as pure a medium of science that explains what is possible and what is not (till proven otherwise) and hence has a universal appeal. What is quite clear to one and all is the role of green house gases (GHG) in global warming. This is something known to mankind for over 2 centuries now (at least). What is not so clear is the degree of that role and whether it has a positive or a negative impact. In this context, I would like to present two very interesting views that caught my attenion on role of CO2 in global warming.

View 1: In the absence of any GHGs, Stefan-Boltzmann law shows that the average surface temperate on earth would be -18 degrees C. This is well below freezing point and obviously not good for life. We also know that in the presence of GHGs, the Stefan-Boltzmann law shows the average surface temperate of earth to be around 15 degrees C. So the presence of GHGs raises the surface temperature by 33 degrees C. This is a positive and desirable impact for life on earth. GHG composition shows that it is largely made of water vapors (almost 60-70 percent) and gases such as CO2, methane and others.

In last 200 years or so, CO2 levels have risen from preindustrial levels of 280 ppm to 380 and global temperatures have gone up by 0.8 to 1.0 degress C. If CO2 levels were to reach twice the level of preindustrial age to 560 ppm, that would raise global temperatures further by 0.2 to 0.5 degrees C. So where did IPCC get the number as 2-6 degrees C from?

View 2: Since preindutrial age, CO2 may have gone up by over 30%, but CH4 (methane) has gone up by a whopping 300% in the same time period. In CO2 terms, it is a staggering 7500% increase as CH4 is 25 times more reflective than CO2. Amdahl's law shows that even if the CO2 levels were to be reduced to 50% (not a great idea in the first place), we may only have a 2% improvement!

What do these 2 views show? That, even if CO2 increases 2 folds, temperatures are not going to go up. On the other hand, even if we reduce CO2 2 folds, expected improvement is meagre. So why focus on CO2 at all?

If then, the focus is to be on water vapours (and there is evidence of recognition of this fact by NASA and others as late as a month ago), then anthropogenic global warming is a myth. There would be global warming alright, but as was always the case due to the earth cycle. Humans would hardly have much control over the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere (mostly it is due to seas and oceans).

So in summary, here are my takeaways:
  1. Anthropogenic global warming is a myth. Long live planet Earth !
  2. Focus on climate change and CO2+e needs to be investigated further and would be foolish to focus on conservation plans focusing on CO2 alone. Awaiting IPCC v5 report !
  3. Conservation of natural resources must be done irrespective of CO2. In developing countries like India, conservation has a financial benefit rather than an environmental one which is more appealing to the customer.
  4. Linking energy conservation to CO2 emissions may be a good academic exercise but while setting targets based solely on CO2 levels, one should be careful.
  5. Green technologies should be deployed, green oriented processes must be in place, not because they make great political statement, but because they are good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Welcome to Innotomy blog!

Innotomy focuses on the application of scientific method for the product and/or service innovation. I am planning to publish a series of articles on various diverse and related topics in the near future in following areas
  • Energy
  • Mobile handsets and wireless communication
  • Computer vision
  • Quantitative analysis

What does Innotomy mean? What does Innotomy Consulting stand for?

Let's look at etymology of Innotomy. Origin: 2010 AD ( inno - for innovation ; Greek tem - to cut up, to dissect, to explore).

Innotomy then can be described as any of the following:
  • The science of exploring innovations
  • The structure of any part, or whole of an innovation or an idea
  • A detailed analysis of an innovation or
  • A model of a fully explored innovation

The primary focus is on innovation and applying a formal scientific method in order to refine it and take an idea through implementation for monetization.

What does Innotomy Consulting stand for? It is primarily a well-oiled, scientific approach to exploring incomplete or inaccurate knowledge while innovation is being implemented. In the weeks to come, I will take you through some of the topics in each of the domain areas mentioned above and explain with case studies. I intend to illustrate how Innotomy helps in achieving some of the early stated goals, not always completely unambiguous. Innotomy helps refine both the objectives and the product to achieve a stated end goal.